Jeremy Hunt says NHS should remove damp from council homes to improve people's health

Comments follow Twitter spat between Health Secretary and health expert Sir Michael Marmot

Katie Forster
Health Correspondent
Thursday 20 July 2017 08:22 BST
Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing street after a cabinet meeting on 11 July
Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing street after a cabinet meeting on 11 July (Getty)

Jeremy Hunt has suggested the NHS could intervene to remove damp from council homes in an effort to improve people’s health.

The Health Secretary said there are “very strong links between poor health and poor-quality housing” and any new policy would be part of a “holistic” approach from the health service.

“It is about providing green spaces in cities to help improve our mental health, providing cycle routes, a whole range of things, and housing is critical,” he told an audience at the King’s Fund in London.

“I can see a world, not immediately but in perhaps five years' time, where the NHS pays to sort out the damp in someone's council house.”

He quipped that NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, sitting next to him at the briefing, was “looking very worried” by his comments. “With our growing budgets,” Mr Stevens joked in response.

The comments came after a spat on Twitter between the Health Secretary and health expert Sir Michael Marmot over life expectancy statistics.

Sir Michael, a professor who previously chaired a government-commissioned review into health inequalities, said improvements in life expectancy in Britain have almost “ground to a halt” since 2010, citing figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Mr Hunt challenged these claims on social media, saying that life expectancy was continuing to rise significantly and citing the same statistics quoted by Sir Michael.

“Respect Marmot but his graph shows life expectancy for newborn boy is already 61 minutes longer than it was at time of his Today prog interview,” wrote the Health Secretary alongside a diagram from UCL’s Institute of Health Equity, led by the professor.

Sir Michael responded angrily to the tweet, writing: “What are you saying? That ONS got its figures wrong and rise of life expectancy has NOT slowed since 2010? If ONS is correct, let’s discuss”.

Mr Hunt and Mr Stevens have announced £325m of investment for local projects known as 'Sustainability and Transformation Plans' (STPs) in 15 regions of England, which includes beefing up urgent care in Dorset and creating a new cancer centre in Cumbria.

But Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), said the new funding was "unlikely to go far enough to address the overwhelming pressures and estate needs of the NHS".

He said projects to reform the health service "need at least £9.5bn of total capital funding to be delivered successfully" and warned the plans would affect millions of patients through hospital and bed closures.

Chris Ham, chief executive of health think tank The King's Fund, said the announcement was "very welcome" as “for STPs to be successful, capital funding is needed to support the transformation of health and care services.”

“Today’s announcement is very welcome, and should be seen as a first installment of the much larger capital investment promised in the Budget and by the Prime Minister in the election campaign.”

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